Museums are storehouses of collective memory, places that enshrine particular narratives and preserve objects that help us to tell important stories – about individuals, a locality, a nation.
In this episode of Future Self, ANU student Eleanor Foster speaks to arguably the most significant figure in the museum world globally: Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, head of the Smithsonian Institution in the United States.
They discuss the great role and responsibility museums have in the 21st century, including the role they play in advancing social justice and facilitating conversations about sometimes difficult issues.
Secretary Bunch shares with Eleanor the object from the Smithsonian collection he finds most compelling and wishes people knew about. He also offers advice to people who love history and museums and aspire to a career in this sector.
“History became the most important thing for me because I grew up in a community where there are very few black people,” says Secretary Bunch. “And there were people that treated me horribly and people that treated me wonderfully – and I couldn't understand why. So I thought if I understood the history of my little town, maybe I understand why people treated me in a certain way. And then that got me to thinking about just understanding history as a way to understand the nation.”
“So for me, history became both something personal and professional. It became a way for me to make sense of the world. It gave me a way of thinking that I could realize that history gave me tools to understand not just the past but the present. And so for me, history really was my muse.”
Eleanor Foster is a PhB (Hons) student majoring in History. Her research has focused on the intersection of history, anthropology, and museums. It currently explores collections of Indigenous Australian material culture in overseas museums.
Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. As Secretary, he oversees the world's largest museum, education, and research complex. The Smithsonian comprises 19 museums, 21 libraries, and numerous research centres – as well as the National Zoo. Secretary Bunch was previously the inaugural director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Music: "Found You" by Atch
Future Self is a production of the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences. It’s produced by Evana Ho.
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